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Tom Bartman dies at 67; helped end forced busing in L.A. schools

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Tom Bartman, whose election to the Los Angeles Board of Education in 1980 gave board conservatives a majority for the first time in years and helped spell the end of mandatory school busing in the sprawling district, died Monday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 67.

The cause was cancer, said his wife, Eleanor.

A Republican, Bartman served seven years on the school board, including two terms as its president, from 1981 to 1983.

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An attorney for the anti-busing group Bustop, Bartman was first elected to the seven-member board in February 1980, when he won a special election to fill a vacancy. His victory tipped the balance to board conservatives for the first time in five years, and came at a contentious time for trustees and the district over court-ordered mandatory busing for integration, which had begun in 1978.

Bartman said during his campaigns that he supported school integration, but not the compulsory busing program then in use in Los Angeles schools.

In 1981, after court actions cleared the way, he voted with the majority to dismantle the program, which had affected about 58,000 students. Later that year, he was chosen board president, replacing his close ally Roberta Weintraub, and was reelected the following year.

Known for his 60- and 70-hour workweeks, Bartman was considered an effective behind-the-scenes board member, able to work with political opponents. He was also exceptionally bright, "with a mind like quicksilver," said Rita Walters, a former board member who was a strong supporter of the mandatory busing program.

"We were on opposite sides of the issues, but we could sit down and have rational conversations about it," Walters said Wednesday. "We never left those conversations with animus or malice, even though we disagreed."

Thomas Fred Bartman was born in Chicago on June 6, 1945, and moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was about 4. His father, William S. Bartman, was an attorney who also served on the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission. His mother, Norma Bartman, was a homemaker.

He attended the private Harvard School in Los Angeles and in 1966 graduated from Pomona College with a bachelor's degree in political science. After graduation, he worked for several years as an assistant to Herman Kahn, director of the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank. He earned a law degree from Stanford University in 1972, then briefly worked for a Los Angeles law firm.

Always interested in politics, Bartman ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1976, then for the school board. He served until 1985, when he decided not to seek another term, saying that he had achieved his goals, including a new computerized system to keep track of teacher assignments.

But the following year, after his successor, David Armor, resigned to take a job in Washington, Bartman sought — and won — reappointment to his old West Valley seat on the school board. He served again until June 1987.

In recent years, he worked for his family's Los Angeles investment firm, his wife said.

In addition to Eleanor, his wife of 46 years, Bartman's survivors include his son, Brett; his daughter, Michele; his mother, Norma; his sister, Barbara, and four grandchildren.

rebecca.trounson@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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